By Benjamin Rose, Editor
Loki is a good show weighed down by MCU melodrama and some hit and miss writing. Its greatest strengths lie in humor and a plot that is both intricate and easy to follow. While some of its emotional arcs fall flat and its overarching multiverse narrative leans a little too heavily into pop philosophy bullshit, this show is just deep enough and just zany enough to outweigh its faults, and avoids detouring into the typical laudanum snooze fest that constitutes…well, most “dramatic” MCU fare besides Black Panther. When we last left Loki (in the pilot, discussed here and here) he was engaged in a confrontational therapy session with agent Mobius of the Time Variance Authority, a multiversal law enforcement agency dedicated to preventing interdimensional strife. After agreeing to help Mobius hunt down a variant of himself who has been ambushing and slaughtering minutemen (TVA agents), Loki and Mobius begin some detective work.
At this point in Episode 2 we begin to get a sense of where this show is going, until the Good Will Hunting dynamic of the series opening gets thrown off course by their encounter with the variant. The variant “Loki” is a woman who goes by the alias Sylvie. Arrested by the TVA as a child, she escaped and has made it her mission in life to destroy the TVA and the Time-Keepers. Soon we get a love-hate romance between the two Lokis, who team up to destroy the Time-Keepers as they and the entire multiversal edifice’s secrets are uncovered. While Loki’s character development continues along the arc established in the pilot, the show does a fine job of continually expanding and blowing up its lore episode after episode without veering into the stylish vapidity of a Christopher Nolan epic where the viewer gets lost halfway through engaging with vague concepts in a convoluted maze. Like a digression snaking off from the Sacred Timeline on a Tempad, Loki strays from the path while retaining its linearity, until we arrive at a charmingly batshit conclusion that might have been predestined from the beginning.
Let’s talk what works, and what doesn’t. For starters, while the overall plotting is excellent, the dialogue is hit and miss, and the series lacks a compelling villain until its final episode. Owen Wilson feels miscast in some respects, and his abrupt shift in priorities when Loki reveals the true nature of the TVA in Episode 4 is unbelievable. This isn’t a demanding role, and Wilson isn’t Robin Williams. After a certain point you get the sense he’s playing Mobius on cruise control. Gugu Mbatha-Raw (Renslayer) retains her steely personality from the pilot, but lacks sufficient material to make a compelling villian. Ultimately, when we see her fight Sylvie, it’s not all that impressive, and the show’s meh choreography doesn’t help. The TVA, despite its centrality to the plot, is really just an onion peeling away to reveal the enigmatic godman He Who Remains at its center, and until this genuinely compelling, off-kilter villain is introduced as the Big Bad of Loki’s universe, the TVA is just a by-the-numbers antagonist that exists to make Loki and Sylvie better versions of themselves. This might sound rather negative, but none of these elements are bad so much as the inoffensive, middle-of-the-road fare Marvel typically delivers. Speaking of “inoffensive” (or the opposite), Loki’s bisexuality reveal is every bit the hand-waived and pathetic throwaway line of dialogue Russell T. Davies has led you to believe. I suppose Disney must appease its critical homophobic and transphobic demographic, but this wink-wink nudge-nudge charade of representation is getting old.
Loki’s saving grace is the chemistry between Tom Hiddleston and Sophia Di Martino (Sylvie), whose banter and on-again off-again attempts to betray and murder one another eventually dissolve into an understated attraction. Well, that and the absurd humor that pops up now and again, and which finds its best expression when Loki is “pruned” (i.e. disintegrated) only to be banished to a void fought over by myriad variants of himself, including a “Loki” that is just a horned alligator. This leads to a lovely, utterly batshit scene where, confronted by the evil variant President Loki and his mob of Loki variant goons, Protagonist!Loki escapes when all the other Lokis attempt to double-cross one another and it breaks down into a confused, Anchorman style melee, complete with Alligator!Loki severing limbs.
Overall, there’s nothing exceptional here, but for a by-the-numbers Marvel spinoff, Loki is still better than anything starting with “Thor” that doesn’t end in “Ragnarok”.